These days, most people have multiple tabs open with some of us using over a dozens at one time. With that many different tabs, it can be difficult to keep track of what pages you have open, a problem which leads us to sometimes have multiple copies of the same page or web app running in different tabs.
Firefox 4 takes a unique approach to solving this problem by providing its Tab Panorama feature. By simply clicking on the Tab Panorama button, you can see a list of thumbnails that show previews of all open tabs. Not only can you switch between tabs from here, but you can also do a text search across all your open tabs.
You can even drag and drop tabs into groups based on content. For example, we put all of our news pages into one tab for easy reading. Unfortunately, even if you have multiple windows open, your panorama view will only show tabs and groups in the current window. You also cannot save groups for future use; once you close the browser window, all the work you did to create these groups is gone.
In Firefox 4 you can also pin the tabs for web apps you use frequently (ex: Gmail) to the left side. You do this by right clicking on the tab and selecting Pin as App Tab. Once you’ve pinned an app tab, it will stay on the left side of your tab bar and will even stay there on subsequent uses of the browser. By having your e-mail or Facebook page pinned as apps, you can get to them easily and avoid having to open multiple windows for the same app.
Though they are not called app tabs, Chrome also has a feature that allows you to pin frequently used tabs to the left side of the row by right clicking and selecting “pin tab.”
IE 9 has a unique display that shows your list of most frequently opened pages every time you open a blank window. You can also bookmark tabs as a group so you can open the entire series of pages at once.
Though IE 9 and Chrome do not have anything as innovative Tab Panorama view, both of them do a much better job of letting you tear off or reorder tabs than Firefox 4 does. In both IE 9 and Chrome, you can easily pull tabs off of a window and turn them into their own independent windows. You can also drag a tab from one window and dock it onto another or you can drag tabs left or right within a window to change their order.
While you’re dragging a tab around in Chrome and IE9, its content remains visible and other tabs on the same window bar will move right or left as a visual confirmation that you are reordering them. In IE 9, even a YouTube page with Flash video playing was visible as we dragged its tab across the screen.
In Firefox 4, tab tearing works poorly. You can move tabs around within a browser window but the other tabs don’t move aside for you, so it’s hard to know whether you’ve dropped the moved tab into the right position. We also found that torn off tabs wouldn’t always drop where we dragged them, but instead would create new windows on top of their parents. Multimonitor support was weak, as tabs we dragged off onto a second screen snapped back to the first desktop.
Winner: Firefox 4 by a narrow margin. Lackluster tab tearing is a drawback, but no other browser offers something like Tab Panorama. IE 9 comes in second because of its attractive list of popular tabs, tab groups, and ability to keep playing video in a dragged tab.
All three browsers have a wide array of security and privacy settings you can tweak. Firefox has a “do not track” feature that allows you to tell websites you do not wish them to record your usage patterns, though this relies on the site to obey your wish for privacy. IE 9 takes this a step further by allowing you to download tracking protection lists that only allow tracking by sites that are considered safe.
You can initiate anonymous browsing windows through IE 9′s InPrivate browsing feature, Chrome 10′s incognito feature, or Firefox’s private browsing. These private windows prevent you from storing cookies or a browser history.
Winner: IE 9. While all three browsers offer a lot of privacy controls–and even more are available via add-ons–IE 9′s Tracking Protection Lists make it easy for users to find a list of trusted sites. Firefox comes in second because of its implementation of the do not track checkbox.
All three browsers have compelling exclusive features. In Firefox, we’ve already mentioned the unique Tab Panorama feature and ability to pin app tabs, but we’d be remiss not to mention the Web console feature that allows developers to not only see how code on a page loads but make changes or test scripts in real-time.
Chrome 10 has Google Cloud Print, which allows you to print documents over the Web to any computer that has Chrome installed and a Google account set up. It also has Chrome Instant, which automatically starts loading the most-frequently opened pages while you are typing their URLs. For example, when we hit “F” in our browser, Chrome 10 autocompleted with FaceBook and began loading that page before we even had to hit enter. While other browsers have autocomplete, they don’t start loading a web address until you’ve hit enter. If loading pages before you’re even done typing in their addresses seems a bit abrupt to you, remember that Chrome Instant is disabled by default.
IE 9 has the best special feature of all, pinnable sites and Jump Lists. If you like a site and you want to make it readily available, you can pin it to the Windows Taskbar or Start Menu. When a pinned site is open, it can change the color of your back and forward buttons and place its logo to the left of the back button. More importantly, it can add custom items to the Jump List, which appears when you right click on its pinned icon. eBay, for example, lists daily deals in its custom Jump List.
Winner: IE 9. The custom Jump List provide something you just won’t find elsewhere, a way for webmasters to provide improved navigation or content to repeat visitors. Chrome comes in second because of its nifty Cloud Print feature.